Canadian athletes hopeful Tokyo Games can still happen if no vaccine

canada-shows-off-bronze-medals-after-4x100-relay-rio-2016

Canada's Andre De Grasse, left to right, Brendon Rodney, Aaron Brown and Akeem Haynes show off their 4x100-metre bronze medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, August 20, 2016. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Some Canadian athletes feel confident the Tokyo Games can happen next summer without a COVID-19 vaccine, but not necessarily because the head of the organizing committee and the International Olympic Committee say so.

Two-time Olympic trampoline champion Rosannagh MacLennan draws assurance from watching the NBA and NHL play games in North American hub cities, as well as the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York.

The gymnast from King City, Ont., believes those sports are providing the templates on how to run a large-scale sporting event during a pandemic without a vaccine.

"I do think it’s possible," MacLennan told The Canadian Press.

"We look to the professional leagues, and obviously it’s different, but I think we can learn a lot from the bubbles that they’ve created, the policies and practices that they’ve put in place, what worked and what didn’t work."

Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive officer David Shoemaker concurs pro sports may be paving the road to a 2021 Summer Games.

"The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee and the IOC with support from (the World Health Organization) are committed to holding a simplified and safe Games," he said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

"The COC is encouraged by what we have seen so far in some pro sports, including European soccer, NBA, NHL, pro golf and pro tennis.

"We will continue to draw many lessons from that to inform our own preparations and consult with our National Sport Organizations using the health and safety of Canadian athletes as our guidepost."

Canada took the bold step this spring of declaring its athletes wouldn’t compete in Tokyo if the Olympic and Paralympic Games went ahead this summer, citing safety concerns in the advancing pandemic.

Two days later, Tokyo’s organizing committee and the IOC postponed the Games to 2021.

Tokyo’s chief executive officer Torisho Muto said recently the Games could go ahead without a vaccine. IOC member John Coates also stated the Games would happen despite the pandemic.

Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe of Stittsville, Ont., and racewalker Evan Dunfee of Richmond, B.C., can envision it, although they doubt spectators will be able to watch them compete.

Wiebe’s coach Paul Ragusa is also an Alberta Health Services epidemiologist.

"Having him in my corner in wrestling but also just managing and being up to date on what this all looks like from like health perspective, I feel so confident," Wiebe said.

"I feel like this virus will be around for a long time. Once we get a vaccine, it’s going take a long time to get everybody to a point where they’re vaccinated.

"We’ve seen ways in which we can move forward, though, in workarounds without a vaccine."

Dunfee acknowledges he feels "jaded" about the IOC’s optimism, although the 50k bronze medallist in last year’s world championship thinks he’ll compete in the Olympic Games next summer.

"Their primary concern is their sponsors. It’s not the athletes," he said. "They’ll say what they need to say to make sure that their sponsors are happy and confident in getting their value out of it.

"I think the Games will happen without a vaccine, whether or not that it’s something that should be happening … I have no doubt that the IOC will do everything they possibly can to make sure it happens."

Given the hard stance the COC took on their behalf, the athletes look to team chief medical officer Dr. Mike Wilkinson for guidance on the safety of the Games.

He led a Canadian committee that developed return-to-sport and return-to-competition guidelines, which got the attention of the WHO.

"I’ll take my lead from the support and leadership staff at the COC," Dunfee said. "I tend to not put too much stock in anything the IOC is saying at this point."

Added MacLennan: "I think we’re we are in a really fortunate position to have a chief medical officer as strong as Dr. Mike Wilkinson.

"He’s very involved not only within Canada, but internationally. I think that Canadian athletes should take a lot of comfort in knowing that we have really strong experts leading the way."

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